Discussions of violence are increasingly comparing modern rap music to the rise of young people’s drug, alcohol, and gang abuse. Due to media defamation of this musical genre, rap is believed to be the cause of most street related crimes. Although the media is projecting conservative views of rap music as plaguing nonsense that leads to negative effects on society, rap music has evolved to provide today’s youth with a new culture, positive role models, and the “be yourself” mentality.
Since rap music made its first appearance in Bronx, New York in the late 1970s, it has gradually gained recognition from it listeners. In its early years, rap as a genre was merely pronounced as a fad. But it proved the skeptics wrong when a song by The Sugarhill Gang, “Rapper’s Delight,” landed at the top of the pop charts. Rap has evolved from African American people who generally emphasized story telling to a musical beat. Rappers began as poets, but now the technique and form of today have grown into a tantalizing trend that captures its audience. Rap, just as any other art form, began with a purpose in sight of its creators. According to Bill Moyer, “rap started with inner city kids, for other inner city kids. They had no intention of it going mainstream” (add citation). Rap began on the streets where young guns took out their frustrations in art rather than violent actions. Music was a catalyst that kept teenagers out of trouble with the law. The originators of rap spoke from their experiences in hopes that others would listen to their troubles and essentially learn from those mistakes. As the media caught wind of this new phenomenon, the blithe intention of rap was defamed into a monster that caused the good kids to go bad.
This new street creation has been subjected to much criticism by media sources. In its early years, rap was filled with soul and good intentions. The new breed of rap, or “gangster rap” (one in which the media loves to publicize) tends to fancy the hardcore, bad to the bone, killing spree aspect of the streets. In many cases, however, the performers are merely entertaining the public. Rappers should not be so quickly perceived by the lyrics of their songs, but by the metaphors behind the words. Being a rapper is a job. Typically, the showboat side of the artists stays at the studio. The recording booth brings out the alter ego (or the persona that is a criminal) that presides in artists today. The media, nonetheless, takes this parade of violent actions literally. Gangster rap supports the formation of negative stereotypes. These classifications encourage not only the outsiders looking in on the rap community, but the rap community itself to believe that black men are thugs. Rap music does become a problem when literal interpretations form a stronger bond with the group rather than its metaphoric meaning.
The following lyrics are from “Ballad of a Dead Soulja” by one of rap’s greatest, Tupac Shakur. The literal translation appears that the rapper hates all policemen; therefore, he will see them in Hell. Tupac was speaking out against the thug life state of mind. This set of lyrics exemplifies the common street gangster who is lashing out in anger because the cops are threatening his domain. “Ballad of a Dead Soulja” is a song of awareness. Tupac says that if you live with this outlook of authority, in general, you will be just another fallen thug. He goes onto say that if you have an optimistic view, you will be the last standing—success will be reached.
The police are so scared of us
All the feds they aware of us
They wanna see us dead
They got pictures of a nigga head,
Tryin’ to see me in chains, shit
Before they put me in a cell, they'll see me in hell. (add citation!)
By this interpretation, it is clear that the lines of literal and figurative can be crossed. This incident is only magnified when the media takes hold of the latter, which only heightens rap’s bad rep.